If you haven’t had the pleasure of watching Netflix’s Grace and Frankie, you are truly missing out. The show delivers the type of biting comedy that Chelsea Handler is so desperately trying to achieve on her new talk show, but without all the effort. That could be because the cast’s lead characters are all elderly and just don’t have the effort to exert. But nonetheless, it’s a funny show. What I identify with even more is its portrayal of the show’s gay characters, Robert and Sol.
If you aren’t familiar with the premise of the show, Grace and Frankie’s husbands have left them for each other after carrying on a gay affair for 20 years. In the hands of less capable writers and actors, this could easily become some stereotypical dribble that makes a mockery of gay relationships. But the show very intelligently showcases a slice of gay life that we simply don’t see on TV. We like our gays under 30, muscled, and oiled when it comes to mainstream TV. It’s rare for Hollywood to examine late life homosexuality in such a public way.
I was watching a few episodes this weekend, and one scene in particular really struck a chord with me. Robert (spoiler alert!) is in the hospital after suffering a serious heart attack. During his stay, he’s struck up a friendship with a young gay orderly who offers to take them to drag queen bingo once Robert has fully covered. Uncomfortable with the suggestion, Sol says that ‘we’re not that kind of gay’. The two then get into an emotionally complex discussion about what it means to be gay after hiding in the closet for most of their lives.
The scene resonated with me because I could see myself in Sol. At one point in my life, I felt like I wasn’t that kind of gay either. RuPaul’s Drag Race was just too gay for me to enjoy. I desperately wanted to be a part of a nightlife that didn’t revolve around gay bars. I meticulously watched and corrected every mannerism that was even the least bit feminine. Because I was so worried about being pegged as a gay stereotype. I wanted to represent a different type of gay than what people saw on TV. But in order to do this type of unofficial social work, it involved not being gay at all.
I now know that my desire to disassociate myself with all things gay wasn’t really about avoiding stereotypes. It was about self-love and finding comfort with my sexuality. The less comfortable I felt, the more I tried to mask that part of my life. The truth was the gay shows and the gay bars were the only places where I could truly be myself. Over time, I had to learn that other people’s perception of or definition of masculinity shouldn’t matter to me. As long as I accepted myself, that’s all that mattered.
Not to get all after-school special on you or anything. Seeing Sol fight so hard to avoid any activity that could be perceived as gay by outsiders reminded me of what it’s like to have that internal battle with yourself. Coming out at any age takes courage and continued growth after doing so. I’m lucky that I was able to work past that. And for all those men and women out there who are still struggling to get to that place, here’s hoping they realize it’s okay to be that kind of gay.